Some of you will have heard of the recent Barbel Society petition to remove otters from the list of protected species in this country. What you don’t all know is that this caused a major rift between BS and the Angling Trust, a rift that has been brewing for some time now. For all of us who do not fish exclusively for stocked fish behind otter fences, this is an important issue. But where are we all, both the experienced fishermen of Thomas Turner and you, discerning and conscientious fishermen? It is in many ways difficult.
It must be a shame that these two organizations disagree on this matter. TA and BS have shown great energy and positivity over the past few years, and both show a laudable desire to get things done. In angling, most of us agree that all of this energy needs to be concerted, not diverted, and that we should speak with one voice on all the big issues of the day. This is clearly not the case here, and the cliché “irresistible force and stationary object” comes to mind.
Let’s be clear that otters eat fish, especially non-native fish in smaller, shallower habitats. Older, weakened specimens are particularly vulnerable, as are all fish in the coldest winter weather. The BS is also perhaps correct that England, at least, has perhaps a higher density of otters than for some time, following widespread releases at the end of the last century and the stopping hunting in recent decades.
The TA retorts that this petition has no chance of persuading MPs to sanction otter controls, no matter how many fishermen sign it. He also argues that initiating it presents a real risk of distancing us from a mainstream audience that is lukewarm to our sport anyway. In addition, the TA is adamant that there is no silver bullet to improve fish stocks, especially in our rivers. In their eyes, the way forward is to fight against pollution, abstraction and river desecration in all its forms.
A rational but cautious approach would be to support TA here. After all, throughout the fishery – at the time of the Covid negotiations – he has proven he has the ear of the government. However, are we ever going to win public opinion as anglers? Environmentalists usually regard fish as the creatures of least concern, and this disdain is reflected every week in every arm of the media. Many members of the public know all about meerkats, but couldn’t tell a trout from a tench.
This indisputable stance against fish is one of the reasons why nothing of real utility has been done to improve naturally reared fish stocks of all species, in all rivers, over the past thirty or forty years. . Anglers of all disciplines in most areas are tired of seeing nothing to bring back the fish and naturally wonder when something positive will ever be done. There is hardly an experienced river fisherman who cannot name endless unnecessary programs launched by statutory bodies which have had no positive impact on stock levels.
The point is, if our rivers contained the fish stocks they should contain, then the impact of otters would be acceptable to all of us. If rivers like Ouse, Teme, and Wensum had a good barbel head, then the otters and the Society in question would happily coexist. The real crisis is that we have never had so many fishery scientists working in this country and we have never had so few natural river fish, be it salmon, roach or minnows. . If the TA and BS could come together to address this situation, we would love to see our river fish restored to healthy numbers. Otters or not.
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